Unidentified Funky objects
United Future Organisation
Technology can preserve tradition as readily as it can challenge it. Give a few DJs a sampler, for example, and they won't necessarily reinvent the wheel. Take United Future Organisation - two Japanese DJs and a French one, actively involved in Tokyo's fiercely style-conscious scene. They've got an S1100, and they spin the sounds for club nights and parties all over the place. But, hang on - what's that music they're playing? Why... it's jazz!
The trio, made up of Tadashi Tabe, Toshio Matsuura and and Raphael Sebbag, exercise precise control over the musical components of their beloved genres. Seamlessly, live performances are edited together in StudioVision to give you the original plus a little bit extra - that little bit extra demanded by a club audience intent on strutting some well-heeled funky stuff. According to Sebbag, being DJs ensures they approach the music unlike conventional producers.
"Basically for us, like other DJs, a lot of tracks - jazz or not - can be club tracks. It's about stretching the knowledge and curiosity of the DJ, who will, in turn, try to be progressive. Respect to the selectors...
"Just as jazz itself developed this century, we develop it our way by fusing it with completely different styles from various eras, and with the experiences that we live daily. We're not specifically trying to make dance music or something new, but as DJs we naturally make things danceable. We call it '90s fusion. You don't conceive a jazz tune just because you sample jazz. Like other DJs we try and experiment with sounds in ways that proper musicians probably wouldn't try."
In the clubs, they supply a wide range of new and old sounds; different kinds of jazz, latin, Brazilian, funk, hip hop, dub, house, rock... "No sound is taboo," claims Sebbag. But how has a culture so steeped in technology become enthralled by music as ethereal as jazz?
"It has developed bit by bit. There has been an interest and a following for a few years now - a new generation of clubbers with strong support from some DJs. It's not like in some countries, where they are just starting to discover it now. The jazz club scene in Japan still has a relatively short history, but it's already developing into many different fields."
As for preserving traditions with technology, UFO are not on a mission. It just comes out that way. Agreed?
"To a certain point. We're not specifically trying to preserve or challenge those traditions. We just try to develop our methods, as DJs and producers, of making some good music by using technology."
Constructing the tracks digitally involves a variety of methods, but keeps it all reassuringly within the realms of button-pushing.
"It will depend on the track. It can always vary, but there are a few ways that we often use. It can start from the main sample and develop around it, using different ways of processing to find and fix the bass line, and the drum beats that go with it. Or, it can start with the basic drums and bass, then maybe building percussion and other ideas around it, in the search for the right BPM and the right sounds to enrich the original concept. In this case, the necessity for live instruments could arise. At other times, we'll decide we need live instruments beforehand. We work in detail. Like a band, each of us will separately sample one instrument, and the right one will be selected. Difficult, but we try it."
The sound sources also suggest that UFO would like to be a band.
"Most of the time we try to use natural sounds - not only jazz instruments, but any instrument. It's just a question of taste, with us. If necessary, we'll use electric and electronic sounds as well. We work methodically, but accidents and intuition are always welcome. We're always limited by time, as our schedule includes DJing, organising one-off parties, producing other artists and making our own records. So we have to work quickly."
Signed to the home of urban cool, Talkin Loud, UFO are stretching the concept of jazz to the limits. Whether they are improvising with decks and samplers instead of saxophones, or reconditioning the blues under laboratory conditions, the listener must decide. Check out their eponymous debut album on Talkin Loud, or the more organic Multidirection (billed as The Brownswood Workshop), featuring small, medium and large-scale remodelling of tracks from the cream of Japanese jazz. Those who succumb to their methods don't seem to mind at all.
"We work with people who understand us. Surprisingly, there is a good response and appreciation from musicians here and there, and those who support us. Away from them, we have no idea what people think."
News by Phil Ward
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